Karl Richter’s recordings of Bach’s orchestral and sacred music influenced an entire generation of musicians and listeners, presenting the conductor’s unique sound and style. When Richter recorded Bach’s works, he freed them from a ponderous tradition that had mired the music in romantic sounds and idiom. Richter lightened Bach’s music, and, with an orchestra of outstanding musicians, helped bring it toward the more modern interpretations that listeners have become familiar with today. This is still a bit far from the historically-informed performances that are pretty much the norm, but there is a unity and natural originality that comes through the music in these recordings.
The recipient of the 2012 City of Leipzig Bach Medal, Masaaki Suzuki has earned an enviable reputation as an interpreter of the music of J. S. Bach as a reviewer in Intl Record Guide has put it: 'With Suzuki you can hear Bach's heart beat'. To a wide audience he is known as the director of Bach Collegium Japan, and the moving force behind the ensemble's acclaimed recordings of Bach's complete sacred cantatas. Perhaps less well known is that he began his career at the age of 12! playing the organ at church services in Kobe, where he was born. Suzuki has remained true to the organ throughout his life, and for BIS he has previously recorded Bach's German Organ Mass, as well as programs of Buxtehude and Sweelinck. He here appears on a disc combining some of Bach's best-loved works for the instrument, including the D minor Toccata and Fugue, the Partitas on O Gott, du frommer Gott, BWV 767, the Canonic Variations, BWV769, and the celebrated Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV548.
When it came time for Johann Sebastian Bach to publish his Opus 1, what work do you think he picked? One of the sacred cantatas? One of the Brandenburg Concertos? One of the cello suites? No, none of the above. In 1726, Bach chose his B flat major Partita to start his publishing career – and once a year for the next five years, he published five more partitas, then collected them under the title Clavier-Übung in 1731. When it came time for Hungarian pianist András Schiff to make his major-label debut, what work do you think he picked? Yes, that's right. In 1985, Schiff released his recording of the complete partitas – and followed it with many more Bach recordings over the next few years until he'd released nearly the complete canonical works by 1996. And yes, Schiff's partitas are wonderful.
Of the three Bang on a Can founder composers, David Lang’s music has always been the glassiest, the sparest, and for some listeners the most precious. In recent years, his aesthetic has become leaner still, paring down already simple material to gaunt extremes in something approaching neo-plainchant. The national anthems (note the lower case; nothing vainglorious here ) takes fragments of text from the anthems of all 193 United Nations member states and unfolds at speaking speed, with plenty of room for breaths between phrases and plenty of clarity to the words. It has the feel of sad and eerie intoning. The Los Angeles choir clinches the right sound for Lang – unflinching, spellbound – while the Calder Quartet gives sleek accompaniment. Also on the disc is a new choral version of Lang’s little match girl passion, the piece originally for four voices that won him the Pulitzer prize in 2008 and which, in the mouths of many, becomes a sort of collective prayer in the congregational tradition of Bach’s chorales.
Thoroughly trained by his father Johann Sebastian, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach became renowned as a virtuoso harpsichordist and organist. His surviving organ music includes the seven choral preludes and ten fugues on this disc, which range from relatively simple settings to elaborate displays of counterpoint. Born in Rio de Janeiro and based in the USA, Julia Brown, who has made several acclaimed recordings of keyboard music by Buxtehude and Scheidemann for Naxos, has been praised as ‘a first-class artist and superb technician … an exceptionally sensitive stylist’.
The C minor Passacaglia and Fugue is one of the great masterpieces for the instrument and one which inspired countless responses from composers great and lesser. So it's all the more astonishing to think that Bach wrote it while still a twenty‐something hireling in Weimar, where his Kapell meistership to the Duke ended badly with the composer being clapped in irons for touting his availability for other jobs, frustrated as his ambition was by the restrictions of the position.